If there's a downside to teaching children how to nurture a green, nutritious school garden, it's hard to fathom. The list of touted benefits is lengthy: students reap fresh air and physical exercise, hands-on participation, awareness of the natural environment, so called "school bonding," and an unprecedented taste for raw spinach. For school faculty, there are welcome breaks in the classroom regimen, an engaging outlet for unruly pupils, and a bridge to involvement with volunteers in the community. And parents get to share skills and experience, from farm expertise to carpentry, that once felt irrelevant to an academic setting.We're on the second page!
Difficulties in funding aside, people like Abby Jaramillo, the youthful director of San Francisco nonprofit Urban Sprouts, will gladly explain why it's important to find a way to sustain such programs. When Jaramillo and her team took over the Excelsior Garden, shared by the June Jordan School for Equity and Excelsior Middle School, she said she was "up to her armpits in fennel."
But the overgrown herbs weren't the only sign of disrepair. "It was a struggling middle school desperately in need of something that would make the students have a stake," she said. Describing the community's "food environment," a term of art in nutrition education, she listed liquor store fare and junk food as the most prevalent options. Five years and six new school gardens later, Jaramillo thinks school administrators and teachers are genuinely on board with Urban Sprouts, whose mission is to serve low-income youth in San Francisco. "When the kids come outside; they are leaders, teaching each other how to plant," she says. "We need to make the garden a core, that will remain here and make a difference."